WASHINGTON - Feverish lobbying on Capitol Hill has begun to pay off for the so-called Oakar banks.
Several members of Congress have asked the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to heed the banks' pleas and change how their deposits are measured - and more such requests are on the way.
The banks - those that have purchased thrift deposits since 1989 - say they are being asked to pay a disproportionately high share of the planned Savings Association Insurance Fund bailout.
The Clinton administration wants to hit all savings fund deposits with a one-time fee of 85 basis points. This would cost the nearly 800 Oakar banks, which hold 27% of savings fund deposits, a total of $1.7 billion.
"This solution is not fair to the Oakar banks," said former Independent Bankers Association of America executive director Diane Casey, who is representing 12 of the banks. "Just because you can afford to pay for something doesn't mean you should pay it," said Ms. Casey, who is director of financial institutions regulatory issues for the accounting firm Grant Thornton.
The Oakar banks contend that 30% to 40% of the thrift deposits they acquired have run off. The FDIC, however, assumes that the banks' savings fund insured deposits grow at the same rate as their total deposits.
To account for runoff, most of the banks want the FDIC to rewrite its rules to reclassify a portion of their savings fund deposits as Bank Insurance Fund deposits.
But one of the biggest Oakar banks, First Union Corp., wants more. It is asking Congress to move all bank-owned thrift deposits to the Bank Insurance Fund.
The banks' arguments have so far fallen on deaf ears at the Treasury Department, their lobbyists said.
But in Congress the Oakars have found sympathy. As of the end of last week, at least one senator and four House members had written to FDIC Chairman Ricki Helfer to plead the Oakars' case. A larger group led by Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., a key House Banking Committee member, will weigh in with a letter to Ms. Helfer this week, lobbyists and congressional aides said.
In an Aug. 30 letter to Ms. Helfer, Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., said the special assessment to bail out the savings insurance fund should "be made upon real, not 'phantom' deposits. Failure to address this issue prior to Congress' consideration of the entire BIF/SAIF proposal could dampen prospects of support for an already controversial matter."
The FDIC plans to respond soon to a formal rulemaking request filed by several Oakar banks, said agency spokesman Alan Whitney. But with savings fund legislation due to come up this week in both the House and Senate, the Oakar banks have focused their attention on Capitol Hill.
"Since the clock's ticking, everyone's going to start blowing in the ear of their favorite senator or congressman," said one bank lobbyist.
Members of Congress are even lobbying each other on behalf of the Oakar banks. Last Thursday, Rep. Fred Heineman, a Republican from North Carolina - First Union's home state - wrote to Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., head of House Banking's financial institutions subcommittee, urging her to "consider the special circumstances of the Oakar banks" in framing a savings fund fix.
The most vocal opposition to the Oakar banks' efforts has so far come from America's Community Bankers. But Robert Davis, chief economist with the thrift trade group, said he thinks banks without thrift deposits will object once they realize that moving money from the savings fund to the bank fund will mean more premiums are needed to keep the bank fund's reserve ratio at 1.25%.
"It's a zero-sum game," Mr. Davis said. "Someone has to capitalize the fund for those deposits, whatever fund they're in."